Archive for the ‘Editors’ Dispatches’ Category
Don Bogen on the winning poem: Jaime Brunton’s “Chase” is the first prose poem to win the Schiff Award and a great example of the genre at its best. Here are some things I especially admire about it. First, it’s definitely a poem. Neither narrative-driven nor expository, “Chase” can’t be mistaken for flash fiction or a paragraph in an essay. It uses sentences the way a good poem in free verse uses the line: with grace, variety, and special attention to sound. “Chase” revitalizes phrasing, so that the most impersonal, empty constructions—“There is,” “There are”—come to support subtle emotional exploration. What the poem has to say about time, loss, and our hopes for a clear arc in the lives of those we love is marked by discovery and insight. “Chase” is sharp, sensitive, and brilliantly rendered, a standout among prose poems and poems in general.
Michael Griffith on the winning story: Robert Long Foreman’s “Awe” features a documentarian who, adrift after a project gone tragically wrong, has quit his profession and is seeking . . . well, is seeking renewed access to the sublime, to awe. His bizarre stratagem is to arrange through Craigslist to watch a woman give birth. In Foreman’s nimble hands, Bill’s alternately comic and poignant (mis)adventures with the couple who agree to allow this make for a delightfully askew, surprisingly emotional story.
Check the blog tomorrow for our distinguished list of HONORABLE MENTIONS. (Sorry, meant to announce them today, but there have been logistical . . . complications, and we don’t want to leave anyone out!)
Our sincere thanks to those who submitted work to The Cincinnati Review’s summer contest. This year’s field was wildly varied in form and content, and it was difficult to choose from among the many quality entries. In addition to the winning pieces, we have a distinguished list of finalists and honorable mentions, as well as the editors’ comments on the entries and the prize poem and story. Please visit our blog on Monday for more contest content.
Those who participated in the contest will receive a year’s subscription to The Cincinnati Review, beginning with our winter issue, due out in early December, and also including the spring/summer prize issue.
Jaime Brunton for her poem “Chase”
Robert Long Foreman for his story “Awe”
Though I’d read and taught C. K. Williams’s poetry and even reviewed it for The Nation a long time ago, I never really got to know him until his visits as George Elliston Poet in Residence in the winter of 2014. His reading and talks were wonderful (and can be heard at the Elliston Project website: https://drc.libraries.uc.edu/handle/2374.UC/695985), but what I remember most about his time here are things that go beyond the literary: his engagement with people, his insight, and especially his enthusiasm. Air travel can be exhausting, but he seemed to bring energy with him from the moment he stepped off the plane. Even the traffic jam that socked us in on his last trip back to the airport didn’t faze him: I had one of the most thoughtful—and helpful—conversations ever as I was stuck behind the wheel that afternoon. I was going through a rough patch, and Charlie’s presence made a difference.
You can see some of his vivacity in this picture from a party at the home of my colleagues Jenn Habel and Chris Bachelder. It came out in smaller settings too, like the dinners Charlie and I had at a quiet pan-Asian restaurant in town, some with our current assistant editor, José Angel Araguz. Normally we take Elliston Poets to different restaurants in the evenings after their readings and talks, but Charlie plunged into the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese offerings at this one place and was ready to eat there more or less every night of his residency. Gusto seems the word for his appetite here, both for food and talk. And range. I can’t say we completely covered the menu during his visits, but we came close.
For Charlie, the menu of conversation was inexhaustible, and he approached it with sensitivity, intelligence, and exuberance—more or less the way he approached writing. He’s greatly missed.
Two of them. Sensible in nature (at least to us).
First, as of January 1, 2016, we will no longer consider hard-copy submissions. By that we mean submissions on paper, sent through snail mail. We get so few now, it’s easy to overlook them. We have to remind each other to glance at that teeny little sheaf of sheets on top of the filing cabinet. Interesting to recall that when the mag started over a decade ago, the office centerpiece was a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with stacks upon stacks—upon stacks upon stacks—of stories, essays, and packets of poetry. Such is progress. Submit electronically. Befriend a tree.
Second, we are reducing the number of poems that can be submitted in a single batch to six. The limit was ten, but we realized we were the only mag in double digits, poem-wise. In an effort to keep things moving, and to encourage writers to shoot us their very best stuff, we’re making our new magic number six. Of course, we’ll grandfather in sets of poems that have already been submitted. As of October 1, however, if submissions contain more than six poems, we’ll read the first six and stop.
Thank you kindly.
Nicola Mason: Threw this together in response to contributor Michael Robins’s wry Facebook post about summer rejection season. Sensitive subject for writers, and (I can attest) for editors too. In the next few weeks we will steadily work through the hundreds of submissions that built up during our reading period so we can start with a clean slate come fall and keep our response time from snowballing. Because summer is catch-up time for so many journals, writers who submit a lot often get inundated with rejections in a short span. It can be rough, but despite the seeming onslaught, a “no” simply means your piece wasn’t right for a particular mag at a particular moment. We don’t enjoy rejecting work, but CR moves on, and hopefully so do all of you. In that spirit, I give you my (loose) Pantoum for the Rejected.
The term is over, the halls open.
I do not want to send you a rejection.
The grad staff is off for the summer,
scrabbling for work to make rent.
I do not want to send you a rejection.
The issue is nearly full, but unbalanced.
We like what you sent,
but we’re scrabbling for more creative nonfiction.
The issue is nearly full,
and still Submission Manager is a vasty deep.
We like what you sent
and wish for more pages, more funding.
Submission Manager is a vasty deep,
with life at different leagues.
I wish for more pages, more funding.
I do not want to send you a rejection.
It’s time for a post commending our small pool of trusted readers, who are in no small way responsible for buoying our literary vessel. These magnificent humans render thoughtful judgments on thousands of submissions each year. They have children to raise, medical conditions that require myriad unguents, rude neighbors who sneak out at night to pee on their lawns—and still they read on. Below are some examples of their considered critiques. Thank you, volunteers and satellite readers, for your generous service.
—I found a lot of things about the premise, character, and form surprising. This one felt fresh, though there were some areas where the language was a little clumsy, and the moment of change seems sudden. I think it could be expanded.
—The writing takes us right up to the point where the story should start. Then it ends.
—Strong, unexpected images. Unique voice. Deserves another read.
—This story is beautifully written; it also has much more of a sense of its own language & the power of that language than it does of the story’s moving parts. As an experiment, it’s engaging, even stirring; as a story, it’s somewhat less. The writer is clearly quite talented, though.
—The poet has the ability to move from outer space to a tight close-up in some of the poems, and when it works, it’s a pretty ride.
—I enjoyed the energy and imagination with which the poet approached her subject matter. There is a tension dug into in these lyrics that evokes what is learned and lost in growing up.
—Complex and moving. I love this one. Engages timely issues with deft handling. The description goes on for awhile, but it’s interesting how the dynamics shift as they go.
—This story is not terribly original, and the beginning and end aren’t quite right, but the writing is good throughout. Perhaps someone to watch?
—A pretty good story here. Quiet. Sensitively envisioned.
—An accomplished poet. Many of these didn’t grab me but were technically sophisticated. They are worth another read.
—Sketches of somewhat stereotypical characters. All in summary and description, no scenes. It doesn’t hold together as a cohesive whole.
“Cemetery,” I said, “minuscule, seize, graffiti, mantel—the fireplace thing—as opposed to mantle—the cloak thing. What about you?”
“Discreet—the keep-it-to-yourself thing—as opposed to discrete—the singular-bits thing—Caribbean, liquefy, genealogy. What else?”
“People always use poured when they mean pored. And Cincinnati,” I said. “It’s surprising how often people stick an extra t in there.”
“Vocal cords,” I said, “with an h.”
“Yes!” he cried. “With an h.”
“Foreword,” I said.
“Epigraph,” he said. “Not epigram.”
“Not epigram.” I nodded. “Nyet.”
Michael rested his chin on his thumb. “How can we help the spelling challenged?”
“I’ve got it,” I replied. “We can quote Words into Type. On the blog. Everyone who’s anyone reads the blog.”
“Whose,” he said, “when they mean who’s. And vice versa.”
“Vice,” I said, “when they mean vise.”
“Such as this passage?” he inquired: “The writer who is a poor speller should work with a dictionary always at his side and should send out no manuscript, proposal, or outline without carefully checking doubtful words and proper names.”
“Indeed,” I said. “And this one: Words often misspelled should be memorized or written on a list for future reference.”
“Good one,” commended Michael.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’m glad we had this very spontaneous talk about the building blocks of our wonderfully expressive language.”
“Ditto,” Michael replied, making a little gun with his index finger and thumb, then shooting it at me. “What do you say we get back to our reading?”
I nodded, leaning toward my computer screen and inhaling. “I love the smell of fresh submissions.”
Nicola Mason: It’s Trepidation Day here at the mag—the day we designated to make it known that we are (deep breath) shortening our reading period. We’ve gone back and forth. There’s been heated discussion. Fisticuffs, even. Okay, not fisticuffs, but brow furrowing and such. Definitely brow furrowing and one incipient case of TMJ. In other words, we don’t want to do it, but we have to do it. Weirdly, it’s to be fair to all the talented writers submitting—who are waiting longer and longer to hear from us because of the steadily climbing number of quality manuscripts we receive. Each day we get an email from an irritated, perhaps slightly more than irritated, writer whose work has been under consideration for, basically, ever. This most often means that one reader dug it and passed it on to someone else, who dug it and passed it on to someone else (repeat two more times), and it has reached the head eds, who must read it, and maybe even reread it, before deciding if it goes into the upcoming issue. Sad to say (reality rears its pattern-bald pate) we can publish less than 1% of what we receive.
We most definitely don’t want to speed up the actual process of reading submissions. We don’t want to give anything short shrift. In fact, we rather pride ourselves on supporting that underserved set of writers, the emergers. We are excited, for example, to have discovered John William McConnell’s story “House of Wine,” forthcoming in our fall/winter issue. It’s his first publication, and it’s amazing. We are painfully aware, however, that we are not being kind to hold onto the work—for, basically, ever—of wonderful writers who are trying to take the lit world by the nape and give it a sharp shake. In other words, to be fair to those who submit, we have to restrict the number of submissions we receive. We realize this is something of a catch-22, and that there will be strong feelings and opinions about our long-considered and considerably fraught decision.
Of course, we would love for some beneficent donor to appear before us with a sack of crisp bills so we could a.) work full time, or b.) hire more kick-ass staffers. If you know such a person—if you ARE such a person—we’d be thrilled to hear from you. In the meantime, we are shortening our reading period—with regret—in the hope that we will be more speedily responsive in the future.
I leave you with this delightful passage from the story mentioned above. Thanks, John William McConnell, for sending your stuff our way.
John’s mind jump-started awake. Lilith asleep next to him, snoring. Dim bars of light leaned across the bedroom, beamed through the slats from a disco-ball moon. John immediately understood he would not be sleeping that night, only by the sobriety of his awakeness, its painful edge and the ache behind his eyes.
John frowzed upright and frowzed his brow; he frowzed, then frowzed his eyes and frowzily frowzed out of bed. He really wanted to utter an obscenity but had forgotten them all. He pulled on his pants and shuffled around shirtless in a world of gunmetal blue, and gray, and lurking blacknesses in the corners. Out of the bedroom. Through a blank hall. To a menagerie of couches and furniture that had borrowed from the night a glister of comatose hate. Fuck you, said the couches. On the table was a bottle of wine, number four, and praise the lord: still half full. He poured into a glass and raised it. There was very red lipstick on the rim. Lip, John thought. John glanced around. What the fuck was this? He just wanted to. Yeah, he was gonna do it. John pressed his mouth over the lipstick, her lipstick, cherryblood red. Drank the wine with his mouth precisely over the lipstick and enjoyed the lipid roundness of the stuff adhering to his mouth. The sticky fat. He held the glass and listened. Sometimes there was the shorelike sound of a car spinning around the cul-de-sac, lost in the suburbs, probably, and how the high beams arced like the flash of a lighthouse through the windows. Vase, picture, couch, plant. He drank again, smacked his mouth.
Hey, CR followers. We’re breaking our summer skeleton-crew silence with a reminder, an update, and a treat.
First, don’t forget our summer contest. There’s some lovely moolah attached to the Schiff Prizes—and even if the eds don’t pick your piece to win, they may still want to publish it at our usual per-page rate ($30 for poetry, $25 for prose). In the event that we don’t opt to publish your stuff this time around, you still get a full year’s subscription to the mag, which includes bonus music features AND the 64-page, full-color graphic play MOTH, which we plan to mail out with our November issue. Illustrator Gable Ostley is hard at work and sending us new “rough inks” almost daily, and playwright Declan Greene is supplying captions and dialogue for Gabe’s sketches. The finished product is going to be amazing.
Now for the update: We just approved the final proof for our summer issue and expect the shipment in the next week or so. Our TEN-tacular issue includes last year’s Schiff Prize winners, three reviews that meditate on the staying power of the classic Moby-Dick, the usual complement of terrific stories and poems, another great translation feature, and—bonus—it will be accompanied by our latest music feature, composer Sarah Hutchings’s score for Jeff Gundy’s poem “March Ode.”
Today’s treat comprises a last delightful look at our winter number in the form of our (relatively) new blog feature Pas de Deux, in which contributors to a given issue interview each other about what intrigued, puzzled, or impressed them in the another writer’s story, poem, or essay. This installment features an exchange between Daniel A. Hoyt and Douglas Silver on the latter’s story “Found Peoples.” Check back in a couple of days for the switcheroo: Doug’s questions and Dan’s responses!
Daniel A. Hoyt: I have lots of questions about bodies and lots of questions that seem to beget more questions. “Found Peoples” starts with such gripping, visceral language as Feng, the story’s protagonist, examines a dead body he’s fished from the river. I was immediately convinced by the body; I was there with Feng as he “pinched the green eye, and the contact lens peeled off.” How did you create these artful and disturbing states of decay? What kind of research did you do? Is this a feat of imagination, of medical textbooks, of Google?
Douglas Silver: Google is generally my first stop—be it for a spicier Massaman curry recipe or the particulars of each stage of human decomposition. Numerous websites and academic journals provided an indispensable foundation in the science of decay. I read a lot and emailed a few experts and saw many images I would like to unsee. From there, it was a matter of backtracking—from ashes to animation—and deciding upon those details that provide a glimpse into the lives of the deceased.
DH: How about your depiction of China? How did you go about imagining and creating the physical setting and the rich sociological dynamics underpinning the story?
DS: China’s abysmal record on human rights and personal expression is infamous the world over. It is a dreadful place to be writer and a fascinating place to write about. Much of the societal and physical depictions were the product of research, but the narrative atmosphere was strongly influenced by my visit to China after graduating high school. When I arrived at the airport in Beijing, I noticed a sign that read Warning: Drug Trafficking is Punishable by Death in the R.O.C. Being 18 and an idiot, I thought this a superb photo-op. Before I could put away my camera, two officers approached me. One took my luggage and emptied it in front of everyone while the other demanded my passport. When they didn’t find drugs, they repacked me (admittedly neater than I had packed myself) and welcomed me to the country. When I told someone I met about this interaction, an American who had lived in China for years, she explained how lucky I was, how much worse it would have been if I were Chinese. I sought out that airport photograph when I began the story and kept asking myself what becomes of the unlucky.
DH: Because these questions are for a Pas de Deux feature, this question seems almost mandatory: Will you discuss the way you use foils in “Found Peoples”?
DS: One of the challenges of the piece was providing the reader a palpable sense of Feng’s former life. It seemed the most organic method to achieve this was through Feng’s encounters with those who were devoted to his family, and leveraging this juxtaposition for the benefit of both characterization and narrative tension. At some point, it occurred to me that it is Feng’s contact with the living through which the reader derives the clearest prospective into Feng’s past, i.e., the life he lost. Conversely, it is his dealings with the dead that most clearly render his present life—a paradigm that is upended by his time with the young woman’s body.
DH: There’s a strangely mundane yet magical moment in “Found Peoples” when Feng thinks of and explains the story of the prodigal son. To many members of a western audience and to many western characters, that explanation is unnecessary, but Feng has to think about it in a different way. How did you discover Feng’s point of view? How do you go about shaping point of view in your stories?
DS: I’m of the belief that the surest way to figure out a character is to determine what he or she most desires. If my character doesn’t have an urgent need, then I don’t have a character. At least not one I have any right to expect readers to invest in. I start by asking myself the basics: What does CHARACTER want? Why does CHARACTER want it? What is preventing CHARACTER from getting it? In Feng’s case, while he spends his days working vigilantly and dishonorably to afford basic human necessities, he desires at his core the safe return of his family and the communal acceptance that carries. But he is powerless to achieve that desire; his sole option is faith—something he has never possessed, what divided him from his family prior to their incarceration and what he can’t acquire without them. Once I realized the paradox of Feng as a man who doesn’t believe and therefore isn’t believed in (and therefore can’t believe), I felt like I might have character worth following.
DH: This one may seem like an assignment rather than a question, but I wish more people would read Our Mutual Friend (you too, Gentle Reader of The Cincinnati Review blog!), so here goes: As I first read “Found Peoples,” I immediately thought of Gaffer Hexam, the “night bird” in Our Mutual Friend, who, like Feng, fishes corpses from a river and strips them of valuables. Here’s a link to the opening chapter, when we first meet Gaffer and his daughter, Lizzie. Doug, I know you were initially inspired by a news article about men who retrieve dead bodies from rivers in China, but had you read Our Mutual Friend? What kind of dialogue do you see between your story and the opening of Dickens’s novel?
DS: I’m embarrassed and grateful that I had not heard of Our Mutual Friend. Having now read the first chapter, I am not sure I would have had the confidence to write the piece had I known that none other than Charles Dickens had employed a similar conceit, especially given that both stories start out in medias res. While it appears Gaffer and Feng are not driven by similar desires, both have no qualms about plundering the dead. Gaffer’s rhetorical statement “Has a dead man any use for money? Is it possible for a dead man to have money? What world does a dead man belong to? ‘Tother world. What world does money belong to? This world. . . .” places a premium on corporeality similar to that of Feng, whose ken is viewed through the lens of materialism. Again, I have read one chapter, so my analysis might prove to be total bunk. (But I’m enjoying it thus far, as might you, Gentle Reader of The Cincinnati Review blog!)